Saturday, March 13, 2010

Debriefing the NIC

Due to crappy weather and our radio show being a little delayed yesterday (I’ll post the audio later today), I showed up to the National Invitational Combine (NIC) at the U of T Varsity Centre around 3pm yesterday, about an hour after drills got going.

For those that don’t know, the NIC is a private combine for university students – almost exclusively Canadian – to show their stuff to the same CFL scouts, coaches, GMs who will be patrolling the same field tomorrow for the CFL’s formal Evaluation Camp. The event was run by TSN analyst and former CFL player Duane Forde and Mike Gough, both from Canadian Football Scouting (
When I first walked into the bubble, I was very impressed with a.) the organization of the event and b.) the number of people who were on hand—both players AND coaches. Among the CFL personnel on hand to check things out were Mark Cohon, Jim Barker, Wally Buono, Danny Maciocia, John Hufnagel, Mike O’Shea, Orlondo Steinauer and Ed Hervey to name the ones that stood out to me, not to mention CIS guys like Pat Sheahan, Dennis McPhee and Joe PaoPao. They all looked extremely interested in seeing what these home-grown and trained Canadian players had to offer.

Forde did an outstanding job of organizing the drills and keeping everyone moving in the right direction; great job by him in the first year of this event.

Keep in mind, because I was covering the event for the Ontarion, the newspaper at the University of Guelph, and taking pictures all at the same time, the majority of my attention was focused on the two Guelph Gryphons who were participating: linebacker Matt Rossetti and wide receiver – yes, I said wide receiver, because that’s the position for which he was trying out – Justin Dunk, the graduating quarterback. Fortunately, Rossetti and Dunk were going through their drills at different times, so I was able to keep tabs on both.

First: Rossetti. At 5’11” and 207lbs, he is clearly undersized, compared to other linebackers who were by and large, 6-feet-plus and around 230+lbs. Nevertheless, despite his lack of size, Rossetti showed quick feet and agility, good strength in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill, and was allegedly clocked between 4.75 and 5.04 seconds in his two cracks at the 40-yard dash. Good overall performance and you can tell he’s got a great work ethic.

Second: Dunk. He didn’t do the measurable drills (ie. 40-yard dash, short shuttle, vertical jump, etc—will be doing them tomorrow.) He looked a little nervous when the receiver drills got going—a little apprehensive at first, but was taking time in between reps to go over technique with Waterloo Warriors wide receivers coach Carl Zender, who provided great insight.

Zender’s guidance started to pay off as the drills continued. Dunk looked more comfortable, catching with his hands and using his body to create space. He showed quickness, power and breakaway speed—good characteristics of a receiver. I’m looking forward to seeing his 40-time tomorrow; he told me he expects to run in the 4.6 range and the field at U of T is a fast track! On one play in particular that earned him support from his fellow receivers, Dunk ran an in-route at about 12 yards, went up for a high pass, caught it and had his legs taken out on the way down, still managing to hold onto the ball. That kind of body control and concentration in traffic was a great sign; coaches and scouts looking on appeared impressed.

The crown jewel of the day’s events was the final comprehensive drill, which included quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs. PaoPao coached a rotation of quarterbacks and receivers to run a route at full-speed, while they were being defended by a DB. The organizers cleared the field to let the guys have as much room as possible. It was a great opportunity to see some game-relevant skill on display.

Not surprisingly, Brad Sinopoli from the Ottawa Gee Gees stood out among the quarterbacks. He’s got size, a big arm, mobility and throws a real pretty deep ball. You could see that the receivers were always hoping to be paired with him for the drills, which usually led to completions. Scary to think that he’s still got two more years of CIS eligibility. With Dunk, Danny Brannagan and Michael Faulds all graduating, look for Sinopoli to be the top passer in the OUA next year.

Tomorrow, I’ll be checking out the player drills from the E-Camp. With six Gryphons in attendance, there’ll be plenty to watch for. Really looking forward to seeing the quarterbacks throw, as well as Gryphon linebacker Adam Dunk and running back Nick Fitzgibbon.

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